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Green Bay Clerk Opposed Campus Early Voting Because ‘Students Lean More Toward The Democrats’

Clerk Outlines Concerns With Campus Location In Newly Released Emails

Early voting signs
Elise Amendola/AP Photo

Newly released emails show the Green Bay City Clerk opposed establishing an early voting location on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in part because students tend to support Democratic candidates.

Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske expressed that concern in an email to the state Ethics Commission in August.

The email correspondence was made public Tuesday by One Wisconsin Institute, a liberal group that is the lead plaintiff in an ongoing federal challenge to more than a dozen election laws in Wisconsin, including its voter ID law. The emails were first published by The Nation.

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“I don’t like the idea at all for many reasons: Staffing, ballot security, budget, etc.,” Teske wrote of a possible UW-Green Bay early voting site. “I was reading the statutes and read: No site may be designated that affords an advantage to any political party. UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day, but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole. I have heard it said that students lean more toward the Democrats … Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the Democrats?”

Teske wrote state Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, had been contacting her, “being very persistent” about establishing the UW-Green Bay early voting location.

There is one location Green Bay residents can vote early – the clerk’s office.

Nathan Judnic, staff counsel for the Elections Commission, responded to Teske’s email.

“Budget, staffing and ballot security are all legitimate factors that other municipalities are weighing against the potential added convenience of multiple locations for voters,” Judnic wrote. “As far as stating that one political party may be advantaged more because of a particular location, I might be hesitant to make that argument unless you could point to something other than ‘I’ve heard that students lean more democratic.’”

Judnic also pointed out in-person absentee voting sites may be used by any resident of the city, not just students, and that if the campus polling location is acceptable for Election Day, he was “not sure what the difference is for in-person absentee voting at that same location.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney said the commission was not involved in Green Bay’s “ultimate decision making” regarding the early voting site.

“It is our understanding that the city of Green Bay looked at a variety of factors in deciding whether to offer alternate absentee voting locations,” Magney wrote in an email. “The Wisconsin Elections Commission and its staff did not participate in the city’s ultimate decision making regarding absentee voting locations.”

Since 2011, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have passed a series of laws restricting in-person absentee voting in the state, limiting the number of hours and locations clerks may offer early voting.

In July, a federal judge struck down those laws in part of his ruling in the ongoing One Wisconsin Institute court challenge.

“I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” federal judge James Peterson wrote. “The Legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”

After the ruling, many clerks across the state kicked off early voting earlier than ever before and opened multiple early voting locations.

According to numbers released by the Elections Commission, early voting numbers have been strong in the Democratic-leaning Dane and Milwaukee counties this fall.

Green Bay Clerk Kris Teske did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.